I remember the first time I met Joe so vividly. It was 14 years ago at a friend's birthday party. A whirlwind of pure chaotic joy careered through the crowded dancefloor towards me, sprinkling star dust as he went. He had the cheekiest grin and an even more mischievous giggle. I remember feeling instantly warm and alive in his presence. The kind of soul lit up any room he walked into and left you feeling like you'd encountered pure magic. After 10 minutes in his company I knew we'd be best friends forever.
Some of my most treasured memories are of nights out with Joe. He was the life and soul of the party and seemed to attract people like a magnet. One night in particular stands out in my mind and still makes me smile so much. We went to a bar and spent the night dancing until our feet could no longer take it. We'd been drinking champagne, celebrating being young and alive and by this point we were pretty merry! We decided to call it a night and as we passed the cloak room Joe leaned in and picked up his new jacket. As we stumbled out onto the street there was a young homeless man sitting on the pavement. As he caught my eye I smiled but he quickly turned away in embarrassment. Before I could say anything, Joe walked straight over to him and took off his jacket and gave it to him along with £20. Down the street a busker serenaded a group of drunk rugby lads with 'Wonderwall' by Oasis. Over the music, I could hear Joe quietly telling the lad to make sure he got something to eat. As we walked away I asked, "Didn't you pay £200 for that jacket"? He answered softly, "he needs it more than me, D". There were so many selfless things he did over the next few years that have me convinced he was an earth angel.
Joe was a storyteller. He could captivate an audience and command a room like no other. While most of his tales were heavily embellished, you didn't really care and found yourself hanging off his every word. He oozed charismatic charm and made friends wherever we went. There were so many times we were belly laughing and I'd find myself just staring at him thinking how grateful I was that he existed and that he chose to be my friend.
It was 1st February 2012. It was a Wednesday and I was at my Nan's for tea. She'd made her famous scouse, which is normally my favourite but for some reason I couldn't bring myself to eat. I couldn't settle at all. I had this feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach that I couldn't seem to shake. My hands were trembling and I felt sick. I remember telling my Nan that I felt like something bad was going to happen and she told me to stop being morbid and go home and get an early night. The feeling never left me and as I tossed and turned the feeling only got stronger. It was 4am when I got the call that would change my life forever. Joe had died. I heard this awful wailing that sounded like a wounded animal and realised it was coming from me. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. It was as if I had floated up to the ceiling and was watching myself try to digest this awful news. He was 21, how could this happen?! Were the feelings of dread that consumed me all night somehow trying to warn me what was about to happen?
The news devasted us all. The next six months were a blur. Inexplicable pain and depression set in. I was unable to eat or sleep and I couldn't see the point in anything. On the very rare occasion something made me smile I would feel so guilty and I constantly asked, "why wasn't it me instead"? One night I was looking at photos of us all having so much fun. With tears streaming down my face I imagined his voice in my mind. He was always so positive and uplifting and was right there with a solution to any problem so I tried to imagine what he would say to me. "Come on, D! Dry your eyes, don't ruin your make up". I smiled as I imagined the twinkle in his eye. From then on, I vowed to face everything with his positivity and zest for life. I ended a 5-year relationship that I was so unhappy in but was too scared end, I did a skydive in Joe's memory, I bagged a new job with a 10K pay rise and learned to value and love myself! Whenever I faced a situation that frightened me I would instantly ask myself "what would Joe do"? It has given me the strength to face anything.
I have always been an emotional, heart on my sleeve kind of girl but losing Joe has made me love more openly and fiercely. Not just in my romantic relationship but relationships with my friends and family. I want people to know how I feel about them, to never have to doubt it. Giving thoughtful gifts to my nearest and dearest or even doing something nice for a stranger makes my heart so full. I'm a big fan of paying it forward and try to every chance I get. It doesn't have to be a grand expensive gift. You never know what someone else is going through so a small gesture could make such an impact. Call me crazy but I prefer to give gifts than receiving.
Never in a million years did I think the most painful experience of my life could be the catalyst for so many positive changes. I will honour Joe's memory by living and loving with all my heart and might. Just like he did. It has taught me that life is so precious and we have to make every second count.
Final thoughts… Wear that bikini, apply for that job, go on that trip you have been dreaming about and tell people how you feel because life is so short!